Edgar Degas, born in France in 1834, is known around the world for his Impressionist masterpieces. Less well known is the short, but critical, period of five months from 1872 to 1873 that he spent at the Creole estate of his mother’s family in New Orleans.
Degas’s mother died when he was a child, but he still had family in New Orleans, including his uncle, his brother René, and René’s wife Estelle, who had begun by this time to go blind (a fear that haunted Degas for the rest of his life).
During his visit with his family, Degas produced 22 paintings, including “A Cotton Office in New Orleans,” which depicted the work of his uncle Michael Musson and was the first of his paintings (and the first by any Impressionist) to be purchased by a museum. He also painted a number of portraits of his relatives, and it was during this time that he began to explore a looser style of painting that would evolve into what we think of as Impressionism.
The home he stayed in was built in 1852 by developer and architect Benjamin Rodriguez as one of the original homes in the Esplanade Ridge Neighborhood. Wealthy Creole families like the Mussons composed of many new residents in the city, which experienced a boom prior to the Civil War. Following Degas’s visit, René’s business collapsed, plunging the family deep into debt and the Musson home was torn apart, first figuratively when René left his wife for a close friend of the family, and then literally in the 1920s when the main house was cut in half with one wing moved 20 feet to the side, thereby creating two residences.
Today, both halves of the house have been reunited under the ownership of Degas’s relatives and Musson descendants. A major restoration was performed on the main house, which now serves as a bed and breakfast, while the other portion, which contained Degas’s studio and bedroom, has been restored to the way it would have looked during his visit.
A visit to the museum includes a documentary video with historical details on both the family and the artworks that Degas created while in New Orleans. The museum, breakfast, and mimosas are all complementary if you happen to be staying as a guest.